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College of Engineering Proposal Selected for NASA Astronaut Eye Health Study

September 12, 2019

University of Idaho College of Engineering Associate Professor Bryn Martin's research proposal to evaluate countermeasures that prevent or mitigate the signs and symptoms associated with Spaceflight Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS) has been selected for funding through NASA's Human Research Program (HRP).

NASA is working to answer questions about astronaut health and performance for future long-duration missions to the moon and to Mars. Spaceflight and zero gravity, over time, can have many negative effects on the human body. In addition to loss of bone and muscle mass and cardiovascular issues, SANS is at the top of the list.

SANS is a condition of the eye associated with long-duration space travel. Studies have shown astronauts return with significant eye damage, including decreased near vision, globe flattening, optic disc edema and retinal nerve fiber layer thickening.

Martin leads the U of I Department of Biological Engineering's Neurophysiological Imaging and Modeling Laboratory and is an expert in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computational modeling and analysis. His research is dedicated to improving the health and well-being of people affected by central nervous system diseases and disorders.

Subjects in the NASA study will undergo 30 days of bed rest in conditions comparable to space flight at a six-degree head-down tilt commonly used to model weightlessness. This will mimic microgravity, giving researchers a way to study the effects of pressure on astronauts' eyes in space.

U of I Biological Engineering graduate student Jesse Rohr, and undergraduate students Austin Sass and Stuart Sater, were involved in research leading up to the study and worked in close collaboration with multiple researchers at NASA's Johnson Space Center and Glenn Research Center as well as with the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The new funding will allow Martin and a team of undergraduate and graduate students to collect MRI data before, during and after bed rest. These MRI measurements will be used to create 3D models of the eyes that are used to quantify changes in eye structure alongside other variables. These tests will help identify if bed rest results in similar structural changes to the eye as would long-duration space flight. They will also help identify if countermeasures can be used to mitigate these changes.

Martin's proposal is one of four to be selected for funding. All of the NASA-selected studies will be conducted in the :envihab facility located in Cologne, Germany, at the German Aerospace Center and Institute of Aerospace Medicine. The :envihab is a state of the art facility for conducting ground-based research in support of spaceflight.

Read more about the program.

Bryn Martin

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The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 12,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences. Learn more at